A New Civilization in Europe (500-1000)
Standard: 7.6.2
  • Describe to explain in detail the spread of Christianity north of the Alps and the roles played by the early church and by monasteries in its diffusion after the fall of the western half of the Roman Empire.
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The Spread of Christianity in Europe

Key Terms and People

diffusion: spread

religious order: a community of men or women devoted to prayer in service and bound by certain vows

Benedict of Nursia: an Italian monk shocked by the greed and corruption he saw in the Roman Church, left Rome to live as a hermit and founded a monastery

abbot: head of a monastery

St. Patrick: Saint Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. One legend says that he also drove all the snakes from Ireland.

sacraments: sacred rites of the Church

Section Notes

The Rise of Religious Orders

  • After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity in Europe began. It was aided by Christian groups and institutions that promoted Christian beliefs. Among the most important with a monasteries, or places where people could dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation.
  • In the early Christian church, some religious men chose to devote their lives to study and prayer. In time, some gathered together in monasteries. Benedict of Nursia was a monk who had great influence on monastic life. About 529, he founded a monastery with a series of strict rules, which became the standard for monasteries across Europe. Monks began and ended their days and prayer. During the day, they studied or worked in the monasteries' gardens and workshops. Some care for the sick or worked copying religious manuscripts.
  • Religious orders also existed for women. The women, or nuns, lived in convents. Some spend nearly all their time in prayer and study. Others took care of the poor and the sick or worked in the contents' gardens.

The Conversion of Europe

  • When the Roman Empire collapsed, Christianity had not spread far beyond the Mediterranean area. Most people still clung to the old gods. The task to convert, or change from one religion to another, such people to Christianity fell to priests and monks who traveled across Europe as missionaries.
  • One famous early missionary was Saint Patrick who set out to convert the people of Ireland. After you gain the trust of local tribes, many Irish people accepted the Christian faith.
  • In 597, Pope Gregory I decided to send Christianity in England. The clean of Kent, in southern England, welcomed the monks Gregory sent. Once the king converted to the new faith, his subjects followed. Over the next century, most of England became Christian.
  • In the 700s and 800s, missionaries worked in other parts of Europe. In Eastern Europe, Roman Catholic monks competed with Orthodox missionaries to convert the Slavs. In English month known as St. Boniface set out to convert pagans in Germany and the Netherlands.
  • missionaries brought a message of both fear and hope. The Church taught that humans were basically weak and sinful. A sin was a violation of God's law. The Devil, an evil spirit opposed to God, was said to be waiting to tempt humans into sinful behavior. Heaven and Hell were also key concepts. To reach heaven, Christians had has faith in Christ, follow his teachings, abandon their simple ways, and observe the sacraments, or sacred rights of the Church, such as baptism and communion. Sinners would go to hell and suffer forever.
  • for most people in medieval Europe, the Church was the sole source of truth and authority, and a controlled almost all areas of thought and teaching. The Church was so powerful that even kings had to submit to it.
  • Eventually, most Europeans were united under one faith. Although they might speak different languages and follow different customs, they saw themselves as part of Christendom, or the community of Christians spread across Europe. The idea of Christendom gave Europeans a common identity and a sense of purpose.


Summary: After the fall of the Roman Empire, missionaries spread Christianity across Europe. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church gained tremendous power.

Study Guide Questions

What kind of work did monks and nuns perform?

What did missionaries do?

What are monasteries?

Why did religious orders have strict rules?

Who were St. Patrick and St. Boniface?

How has the work of missionaries in medieval Europe influenced our world today?

Practice Test

Homework: Choose one
  1. Workbook Chapter 14, section 2 (Page 174)
  2. Answer three of the study guide questions using complete sentences.
  3. Draw a picture of something important from this section and summarize this section of the text (three sentences minimum).